Zara Larsson on buying her masters: 'I feel like I'm a boss lady'

Two years ago, Swedish pop star Zara Larsson went independent - buying back the rights to her master recordings and setting up her own record label.

This week sees the first fruits of that venture, as she releases her fourth album, Venus, on her Sommer House imprint.

"I feel like I'm a boss lady," the singer tells the BBC.

"I feel grown, and I feel like I'm in control over what I do in a different way."

It's been a long road to get here. Larsson first found fame at the age of 10, when she won Sweden's version of Britain's Got Talent, singing a cover of Celine Dion's My Heart Will Go On.

She subsequently signed to the Swedish label TEN, where she scored international hits with songs like Lush Life, So Good, Ruin My Life and the Clean Bandit collaboration Symphony.

Then, in 2022, the head of the label decided it was time to shut up shop.

His name was Ola Håkansson - a Swedish music legend, who had recorded with Abba's Agnetha Faltskog and helped launch bands like The Cardigans and Icona Pop. But he was turning 75 and wanted to retire.

"Ola said, 'You know what? I think I've done my time. I'm getting to a point where I just want to be with my family,'" Larsson explains.

But Håkansson had watched the fall-out when Taylor Swift's old label, Big Machine, was put up for sale in 2019.

When the company's back catalogue was snapped up by an investment company, Swift protested that she'd been denied the opportunity to take ownership of her master recordings.

Incensed, she set about re-recording them from scratch, devaluing the originals while regaining control of her songs.

"Ola saw what went down with Taylor and felt that would be his nightmare," says Larsson.

"If you've worked for so long in the industry, do you really want to go out sad like that? Like an old record label man who just wants to have a few extra bucks?

"So the first person he approached about buying my masters was me. Obviously, I said yes because it's an amazing opportunity.

"Now I know the songs that shaped my career are safe with me. And if I ever want to do something with them, it's up to me, not some investment company who doesn't even care about music."

After acquiring the rights to her songs, it made "perfect sense" to establish her own label - Sommer House - which distributes its releases through a deal with Sony Music.

Venus was released on Friday after a year-long roll-out that saw her release four singles, including the smash hit David Guetta collaboration On My Love, and the 80s power pop anthem Can't Tame Her, as well as a Christmas EP.

Zara Larsson
The singer launches her European tour in Manchester next week.

The 26-year-old says the ability to be her own boss is a "rare, rare thing in the music industry" - but admits it comes with some unavoidable responsibilities.

"If I release something and it doesn't go well, I can't just go, 'Well, it was my label's fault'," she laughs. "But I have a great team; and I'm still with a lot of the people I've been working with for a long time, so we know what we're doing."

The initial signs are encouraging. Can't Tame Her was a top 10 hit around Europe and went silver in the UK after a daring performance on Dancing On Ice.

"That was really fun," she squeals. "Growing up, I did a lot of ice skating, so I was like, 'I got this. I'm gonna ace it.' But when I got on the ice it was really hard!

"Luckily, the team really helped me find my feet."

The video for On My Love also made headlines by pairing Larsson with her lookalike sister, Hanna Christina - featuring childhood videos intercut with luscious shots of them hanging out on an (undisclosed) tropical island.

The song, she says, is a "love letter" to her younger sibling.

"She's my my oldest friend and my best friend, and I'm just so lucky to have her," says Larsson.

"She's also the person I would play all my songs to first, because I know she's honest. She don't like sugar coat it but she's not mean, and I do trust her tastes and style."

The album arrives with a fourth single, You Love Who You Love, a sassy club track that unexpectedly transforms into a sparkling, harmony-laden chorus.

"It's a very special song because you don't really know where it's going and then the chorus comes in and you're like, 'Oh, hello!'"

"I've performed it live once and I loved how it felt. It's just like, 'Oh, I can't wait to sing that song for the rest of the year'," says the singer, who launches her European tour at the Manchester Academy next week.

But while her focus is on her own career for the foreseeable future, Larsson says she wants her label to be an incubator for new talent in the future.

"I want to sign my own artists and producers and writers, because now I have the foundation set up for it," she says.

"Right now, I don't know if I have the capacity, but life is long. I'm only 26."

And in 50 years, maybe she can give the next Zara Larsson the opportunity to buy her own masters.